Are women better suited for leadership roles in IT security?

I had several interesting conversations with IT security experts, at InfoSec Europe on Tuesday, about whether women are better suited in IT security then in any other area of IT.

Despite being told that the number of women working in IT security appears to be on the rise, some would still describe the average security specialist as male with either a military or enforcement background.  

Steve Laskowski, vice president of sales at security services specialist IOActive, said that security might be well suited for women in IT as sometimes bad news need to be delivered: “Women are better at delivering bad news and massaging that message.”

“You have to be technical savvy in the security arena though. This sector does not have much tolerance for people who do not know their stuff, whether they’re male or female. So if you’re female and you’re not sharp, then you won’t be allowed to stay just for the hell of it,” he added.

John Vecchi, vice president of marketing at security vendor Solera Networks, told me that he has travelled to many places in the world and has seen many successful women in high up security roles:  “They do a fantastic job, not because they were put there for being a woman, but because they were put there for being incredible business women.”

Are women better suited for leadership roles?

For a successful project strong leadership is required and project management is not always about managing the task at hand, but about managing the people assigned to the project team. The role of a team leader can be compared to that of parent, who is dealing with a teenager reluctant to comply with the house rules. Both parents and project managers need to be adept at fulfilling the roles of mentor, problem-finder, facilitator and communicator.

According to research published in Harvard Business Review, women out did men in seven out of ten key leadership competencies: Energising, designing and aligning, rewarding and feedback, team building, outside orientation, tenacity and emotional intelligence. Men scored higher only in envisioning, global mind set and empowering.


Vecchi feels that women bring a different aspect to a business and it’s one that many businesses can’t do without nowadays. So, what exactly is it that a woman brings to leadership that’s different? Many women prefer to lead rather than rule, which means they will have more of an interactive relationship with their team. A woman will have more of an open dialogue, so she doesn’t feel the need to rule over her team to get results. She is accepting of others ideas, even if she doesn’t always agree, but recognises the ideas are more beneficial to the bigger picture and will listen to others concerns and viewpoints in order to address issues that may arise.

Natural born female leaders seem to be flexible, persuasive, good mentors, empathetic and assertive when they need to be.


Down to science: The difference between the male and female brain

According to Oliwenstein’s study of the brain in 2009, the female brain is better at networking, communication and interpersonal skills. Apparently female brains have more space between the neurons, meaning more connections are created. Laskowski would agree here as he told me in the security arena there is a real community feel and that women are better at communicating that community message. In addition the research found that the left side of the female brain can stay more alert then that of a male, so a female brain is better suited for overseeing internal and interpersonal issues.

Whether you are male or female there can be an upside to working in an industry where you have to prove yourself; it can light an internal fire. Any woman trying to gain footing in a male-dominated industry will find it easier if she is technically and academically equal to her male counterparts. A female project leader should refrain from trying to act like a man and instead be herself.


Personally, no matter what IT industry sector you work in, I think the best route to take is to see yourself as an individual not as a woman.

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